Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Start Anew

Just as a blanket of new snow cleans and freshens the landscape, the new year offers a clean slate for you.

Spend some time this week reflecting on all that you experienced and learned over the past year. Express your gratitude for those moments.

Then, think about the new year and look with anticipation on the beginnings that will come with the turning of the calendar.

Be confident in yourself. Don't be afraid to start anew. Opportunities and invitations will lead to satisfying, new adventures if you're open to them. 

Look to the new year with joy. Be present and grateful for all of the good that will come.

Today, this week: Allow for the changing of the calendar to offer fresh starts for you. Look forward to glorious, new adventures in the new year. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice is upon us, the beginning of the winter season. 

The darkness, the snow and the hush to the landscape are oddly juxtaposed with the busyness of the holidays, the merriment of the parties and the songs of the season being sung everywhere. 

In the midst of the activities and obligations -- the cookie baking, the parties, the school programs, the concerts, the gift buying, the preparations for the holidays, make time to quiet yourself, to internally reflect the outer world right now: hushed, dark, inviting peace.

Today, this week: Give yourself the gift of quiet in the midst of the busy season.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Friendship Tea: Reflections on the Joy of a Cup of Tea

When I was a young girl barely in junior high school, my late mom received a recipe for something new called Friendship Tea (also known to some as Russian Tea). The easy-to-make tea mix was comprised of instant tea powder, orange-flavored breakfast drink powder, ground cinnamon and ground cloves. Sweet, fruity, tangy and spicy. Even to this child’s taste buds, Friendship Tea was oh, so tasty.

Mom and I would go on to make our fair share of Friendship Tea throughout the years, some to give as gifts—especially at the holidays—and some to enjoy together. There was always a clear apothecary-style jar with a tight-fitting lid filled with the tea mix on Mom’s kitchen counter, scoop in the container, ready for tea making. We’d sit across from each other in our homey country kitchen at the old trestle table that served as dinner table, sewing table, homework table, board games table, even reconciling the checkbook table. There, Mom and I would sit, engrossed in conversation over a cup—be it our own homemade Friendship Tea brew or my mom’s store-bought favorite, Constant Comment. That trestle table could have told its share of stories, especially those involving a cup of tea.

Come to think of it, tea has always been at the heart of my most cherished conversational experiences with important women in my life. To this day, when invited for a cup of coffee, I choose tea. Not only does it appeal more to my taste buds, it appeals to my entire being. I may be the only person on any given day sitting in our popular local coffee shop, delighting in my cup of chamomile.

My preference may have to do with the ritual of tea-making that I admire so much, but rarely follow. There is a time-honored ritual to the act of filling the kettle, hearing its piercing whistle when the water reaches the boiling point, transferring the boiling water to a decorative teapot, and steeping teabags until the water turns just the right shade.

The first swallow brings about a sense of calm as the tea curls around on your tongue, washing over your taste buds, giving you just enough time to discern the commingled flavors before disappearing down your throat.

Drinking tea goes beyond the pleasures of taste, however. There’s nothing that warms body and soul quite like lacing your fingers around a hot mug of tea. The winter chill melts away around that one hot cup underneath your hands.

I have a friend with whom I often drink a cup of Constant Comment tea. Like my mother and me, she has a preference for its taste. We sit companionably, my friend and I, solving the world’s problems as we sip our tea—sometimes with honey, sometimes straight. (The addition of the former makes our world outlook a little sweeter, too.)

And sipping it is. Gulping down one’s tea will never do. The aromatic brew invites you to slow down, stop for a bit and sip, just sip.

My friend is a tea purist. The water must be boiled in its own pot, then poured into the mug or cup. I try not to remind her that I often heat a cup of water in the microwave (Heaven forbid!) and then plunk my teabag into the steaming water, calling it a finished product worthy of sipping. It must be the lazy—or perhaps efficient—tea drinker in me.

Thankfully, I have another dear friend, now sadly on hospice, who shares with me the not-so-refined art of microwave tea-making. She’d have the mug of water in the microwave, ready to press start the minute I walked in the door. I could sit at her sturdy table for hours chatting about this and that over a cup of decaffeinated green tea, sometimes with a slice of homemade bread or a freshly baked cookie on the side. A part of me aches as I miss those tea times with my friend, but I’ll carry their sweet lingering memory with me forever.

But back to Friendship Tea. It’s such a perfect name. From the time I was introduced to that simple tea recipe so many years ago, I have wholeheartedly agreed with its name. What lovelier way is there to share time with people you care about than over a nice cuppa? 

And speaking of a cuppa, here’s a more recent version of the Friendship Tea recipe my mom and I enjoyed so much, this time with the added zest of lemonade mix:

½ cup instant tea powder
1 cup sweetened lemonade powder
1 cup orange-flavored drink mix (e.g. Tang)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves

In a large bowl, combine and mix well all of dry ingredients together. Store in an air-tight container. To serve, scoop 2 to 3 teaspoons of the tea mix into a mug. Add one cup of boiling water. Stir and savor.

Whether you go for chamomile, chai, oolong or Earl Grey, every cup of tea, when shared with a friend, becomes Friendship Tea.

May you enjoy your share of cuppas with those dear to you. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Dry a Tear

As the holidays approach, you have so much to give. Your gift, however, doesn't have to be purchased in a store or wrapped with an elaborate bow. It doesn't have to be the latest fad or break your piggy bank. 

Your gift is invaluable when it is your caring heart.

This season, what if you made it a practice for your gift to be that of kindness? How badly our world needs kindness! Every day, we encounter people who are hurting, who are injured by the circumstances of life, whose way is rough and who could use some compassion. 

Open your heart to others. Offer a word of encouragement. Dry a tear.

This holiday season, give love. Give compassion. Give kindness. Give patience. Give respect. Give your undivided self.

You don't have to buy a present. Instead, be present.

Today, this week, this holiday season: Be a gift to others by being kind and spreading compassion.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sunday Sunshine: Explore!

There is such joy in learning new things. Your understanding expands. Your perspective grows. Your assumptions are challenged. Your self-confidence increases.

Perhaps that learning experience comes from listening to the radio or a podcast. Maybe it's through watching a television program or an online TED Talk. Perhaps it's through reading a newspaper, a book or a resource on the Internet. Or maybe it's through a conversation with someone. 

Learning can happen anywhere and at any time (including at any time in your life), if you're open to receiving and considering new information.

When you are open to such newness, you feed your curious self and, as a bonus, you feed your soul.

That's what lifelong learning is all about: A joyful journey of expanding, growing and becoming!

Today, this week: Explore! Give yourself the joy of learning something new, no matter how small, every day. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Song in Your Heart

Television star and orchestra leader Lawrence Welk used to end his weekly TV programs by reminding the audience to keep a song in their hearts. When I think of the weeks leading up to Christmas, I carry a song -- actually several songs, carols and hymns -- in my heart. For me, the joy of the holidays is synonymous with the joy of singing the music of the season.

My love of holiday music began as a child when my parents bought the latest Christmas vinyl LP albums offered through Firestone tires. I couldn't wait to climb back into our station wagon and get home to listen to the new album on our hi-fi stereo record player, complete with speakers affixed to the sides and a turntable that could tilt back into the equipment's housing when not in use. I looked forward every year to that latest Firestone Christmas record album making its appearance in the store so we could buy one.

Each of those annual record albums featured a wide array of famous singers and groups performing Christmas pop standards and classical orchestral works. By listening to those records over and over, I came to love the smooth silky sounds of Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Vic Damone, Doris Day, Robert Goulet, Carol Lawrence and Rosemary Clooney.  I was introduced to the holiday music of Bert Kaempfert's orchestra, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" and the magnificent orchestral arrangements of everything from "O Holy Night" to "Toyland." 

As a six-year-old, I began singing in our church's children's choir, wearing a white "angel" robe with a big black bow tied at the neck. I was also given the wonderful opportunity to sing solos at Christmas Eve church services, beginning as an elementary school girl. "Winds Through the Olive Trees" and "I Wonder As I Wander" were two of my favorite solo pieces from those years. 

Throughout the years, my Christmas performing opportunities expanded to madrigal dinners, as well as vocal duets, trios, choirs, harp-vocal duets and even as a member of an a cappella women's group called The Cheddar Chicks (It's a Wisconsin thing!). I continue to enjoy participating in several of those small ensembles to this day. 

During my growing up years, there were Christmas concerts at school from the time I was an elementary school student all the way through college. In high school, I was a member of a girls' sorority that entertained our community's grade school audiences at Christmastime with skits and songs. One year, I wore our family's green felt Christmas tree skirt as part of my elf costume as I helped lead the children in singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

As a member of other youth organizations and groups, I helped bring music to those who benefited from being uplifted by song as they healed at our local hospital or resided at the local nursing home or at a senior housing facility.

Regardless of the age of our audiences, whether seated cross-legged on a grade school gymnasium floor or in wheelchairs in a nursing home's activity room, there was something about singing Christmas music together that transcended age and promoted joy. And it still does today.

As an adult, I have had the pleasure for many years of singing with a local caroling ensemble called The Village Voices. We wander the downtown retail district, caroling a cappella sacred and secular Christmas songs, in and out of shops and cafes every Saturday during the bustling holiday shopping season. We also sing at the lovely mansion associated with our county's historical society. I look forward to caroling season every fall.

While I have enjoyed singing a wide range of Christmas music over the decades, I consider it to be among the highlights when I have sung with scores of other singers in performances of "The Messiah," filling the hall or church with the moving strains of Handel's great work. Who doesn't get a chill up and down their spine when hearing "The Hallelujah Chorus"?

Some of my Christmas musical performances haven't been ready for "prime time" or any time! For years, a dear friend and I would get together to watch "White Christmas," the popular holiday movie classic starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, and we'd sing along! My friend could sing every single lyric to every single song, where I seemed to only be able to sing the chorus or perhaps a line or two of most pieces, except of course the iconic "White Christmas" after which the movie was named.

Even when I'm not doing the singing myself, I find that I'm drawn to the Christmas music that others perform as they lift their voices or their instruments in jubilant song. It seems that my husband and I attend every Christmas concert available all December long. I even enjoy Christmas music in other more mundane settings, tapping my toe to the beat and humming along while standing in line at stores where Christmas music is playing over the sound system.

Christmas shouldn't have to be the only time of year when we feel the music deep inside of us. Lawrence Welk reminded us of otherwise. 

Whether the tune be merry ("Jingle Bells"), silly ("Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer"), reverent ("Silent Night") or celebratory ("Joy to the World"), consider making your own joyful noise this holiday season. 

Keep a song in your heart.

As I close out this year's series of reminiscences, I'm going to take a hiatus from the longer Sunday afternoon blog posts in 2020. Please join me next Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m. central time and again each Sunday morning in the new year for your weekly dose of "Sunday Sunshine" where my goal is to offer you rays of hope, encouragement, joy and gratitude for your day and week. Blessings!

Sunday Sunshine: Fill in the Blank

A small, hand-printed sign appeared on a tiny table in our church's fellowship hall one Sunday morning. Its message read: "One thing that made me happy was...." If you weren't looking, you might have missed the sign. But how important that fill-in-the-blank is.

Every day, we learn of people who are hurting due to losses, illnesses, relationship stress, work stress, financial stress and other difficulties.

Think about one thing that made you happy yesterday and one thing you did to make someone else's yesterday happy. 

Now consider what will make you happy today and how you might spread that sunshine to someone else. Let the good vibe ripples flow. 

You have the power to make your day one of happiness, joy, gratitude and discovery. It's all in what you choose.

Today, this week: Remember that you have the power to make your day a happy one.